‘Creative Capital of Canada’ planting flags across Waterloo region

‘Creative Capital of Canada’ planting flags across Waterloo region

Bill Jackson, Waterloo Chronicle – Friday, September 20, 2019

Amalgamation might still be a dirty word in some corners, but a grassroots movement that’s grown from a discussion about the need for better collective branding is gaining steam in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.

In conjunction with local BIAs, hundreds of street light banners and marketing materials placed in the uptown and downtown cores are all about celebrating the region’s past, present and future, as the Creative Capital of Canada — an idea sparked by a discussion between community stakeholders a couple years ago, says Scott Higgins, president of HIP Developments.

“The unique part is it’s one of the first times in Waterloo Region’s history that we’ve had consistent banners across the region celebrating regional unity,” Higgins said.

Some 350 banners across the three cities — 162 of them in uptown — feature photos and imagery depicting local landmarks and buildings such as CIGI and the Perimeter Institute, events such as the jazz festival, various inventions and achievements, and some of the individuals behind them historically.

Before the Creative Capital of Canada, the best everyone was coming up with were tag lines that had been borrowed or used, like Silicon Valley of the North and Canada’s Technology Triangle, or “fractured” brands like Make It Kitchener and Quantum Valley, Higgins noted.

Being known as the Toronto-Waterloo Region Innovation Corridor is somewhat broad, yet at the same time limiting to the region’s past, Higgins believes.

“In that conversation we said we need to succinctly tell the world who and what we are as a region,” he said. “We’re not doing that yet and we really need to get focused, because what you celebrate you attract, and what you don’t celebrate you forget and you eventually lose.”

Higgins, who has several large-scale, multi-residential projects on the go locally, including one in Waterloo with a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) learning component on the ground floor, said the one word that started to resonate from discussion groups was creativity. Though it’s a word often associated with arts, it actually has a “wide and inclusive” definition — one that can extend across all sectors, from advanced scientific research to much simpler day-to-day processes, he said.

“If the definition is solving complex problems collaboratively, inventing and pushing things forward, Waterloo Region has always been, in relation to its population, an extremely creative community.”

Higgins believes the region’s successes go beyond the tech sector and post-secondary institutions that were, in fact, fostered by industrialists and traditional forms of manufacturing.

“We revolutionized egg production, the artificial insemination of cattle and the two-piece hockey stick.”

Kaufman, Breithaupt, McCulloch, Krug, Bauer and Lazaridis are all names behind an inventive spirit that gave birth to Hush Puppies, Crown Royal, Tiger Brand, Bauer Skates, Home Hardware, BlackBerry, the University of Waterloo and a few Nobel Prizes, to name just a few successes.

“It’s a lineage,” Higgins said.

Promotional pins recently handed out to first-year students at local universities during orientation week came in the form of miniature homegrown creations — BlackBerrys and Blue Boxes, Imax glasses and oil light indicators — with Creative Capital of Canada branding. Each card attached had information on the “original smartphone” and asked people “What’s better than Elvis and his blue suede shoes? Waterloo Region inventing the first model for community recycling.”

Higgins said the Creative Capital of Canada movement has grown to include several hundred community supporters and ambassadors, from individuals and large private corporations, to the Waterloo Public Library and the Wilmot Terry Fox Run.

It encompasses the townships, but it isn’t owned by local councils, politicians or anyone, he said.

“We are thrilled to work alongside our BIA colleagues and celebrate Waterloo Region’s collective, creative achievements,” said Tracy Van Kalsbeek, executive director of the Uptown Waterloo BIA. “From our days as an industrial powerhouse to becoming innovative, economic leaders, the people in Waterloo Region have always demonstrated outstanding creativity and it is high time we celebrate that as well as our future potential — these banners are a great reminder.”

The hashtag #CreativeCapitalOfCanada on Instagram is home to more than 1,350 pieces of user generated content alongside more than 175 organizations that can be found on the supporters page.

Minto Schneider, chief executive officer of the Explore Waterloo Region tourism and marketing corporation, said she admires Higgins’ vision to get everybody behind a brand.

“One of the things that we have been touting as an organization is trying to get everyone on the same page — not necessarily as a brand, but as a brand promise for Waterloo Region,” she said. “I think we really need to kind of amalgamate — if you’ll excuse the expression at this point — what our messaging is.”

Obviously the province’s review of regional municipalities will go a long ways toward determining how local government approaches the marketing question in the future, Schneider noted.

Higgins believes the Creative Capital of Canada can grow to be more of an anthem, much like the Toronto Raptors’ #WetheNorth slogan that united an entire country.

And, because it bears the name of our nation, it can be applied internationally as well.

“Waterloo Region is no longer a rubber capital and some day we may be a technology capital. But we can, and should be, the capital of problem solving creativity,” the website states.

But right now it’s not about attracting international talent or getting people to come off the highway — things Higgins hopes will become tangible offshoots over time.

For now he said it’s mostly about teaching and inspiring the people who live here — including visiting post-secondary students and those who see Waterloo Region as a bedroom community.

“We want to deepen this movement,” Higgins said, “and try to root the fact that with being from Waterloo Region, creation is almost your obligation, and you can change the world from home if you want.”

Higgins said HIP is looking to establish a half-million-dollar legacy fund along with community partners that will be used to fund creative projects in local elementary schools and high schools, and he believes a more creative approach is needed to get children involved with STEAM learning, with leagues and associations akin to minor sports.

“We need a celebration and we also need aspiration to that message, so that our kids coming through are part of that movement, not just the transient talent that’s coming through our universities.”

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